MLB Pulls All-Star Game From Atlanta, Georgia, in Response to Voting Law

The move served as a warning to Republicans in other states who are trying to restrict voting, and is likely to put new pressure on other organizations and corporations to consider pulling business out of Georgia.,

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Major League Baseball sent a warning shot on Friday to Republicans considering new laws to restrict voting, pulling its summer All-Star game out of suburban Atlanta in a rebuke to Georgia’s new election rules that will make it harder to vote in the state’s urban areas.

The announcement by the baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred, came after days of lobbying from civil rights groups and discussions with stakeholders like the Major League Baseball Players Association. The action is likely to put additional pressure on other organizations and corporations to consider pulling business out of Georgia, a move that both Republicans and Democrats in the state oppose despite fiercely disagreeing about the new voting law.

The league’s decision comes as other states are moving closer to passing new laws that would further restrict voting. In Texas, the State Senate passed a bill this week that would limit early voting hours, ban drive-through voting, add restrictions to absentee voting, and make it illegal for local election officials to mail absentee ballot applications to voters, even if they qualify. In Florida, the State Legislature has introduced a bill that would severely limit drop boxes.

A fight is now intensifying over the Texas bill: American Airlines and Dell Technologies this week voiced their opposition to the legislation, taking stands that major companies in Georgia like Delta and Coca-Cola declined to do until after the law there was passed. Michael Dell, the chief executive of the Texas-based company that bears his name, said on Thursday that “free, fair, equitable access to voting is the foundation of American democracy” and noted that “those rights — especially for women, communities of color — have been hard-earned.” Republicans have shrugged off that criticism so far.

Mr. Manfred’s decision to move the All-Star Game goes far beyond what any other leading American institution has done so far to take a stand against new voting restrictions, and his strongly worded announcement was striking for a league with owners who span the political spectrum.

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Mr. Manfred said in a statement. “Fair access to voting continues to have our unwavering support.”

The law in Georgia, signed last week by Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, was the first major bill of voting restrictions to be passed in a battleground state since the 2020 election. It added new identification requirements for absentee voting, limited the use of drop boxes, granted more authority over elections to the legislature and made it a misdemeanor for groups to offer food or water to voters waiting in line near polling places.

This week, President Biden joined a growing call for the relocation of the game because of the voting law, which he and civil rights groups predicted would have an outsize impact on people of color.

The league said it was finalizing details about new locations for this year’s All-Star Game, which was scheduled for July 13, and the draft. Before the announcement, baseball had faced the unsettling prospect of celebrating an All-Star week dedicated to the former Atlanta Braves great Hank Aaron, a Black pioneer of the game who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, against the backdrop of a Georgia elections overhaul widely seen as targeting Black voters.

Mr. Kemp, who has been forcefully defending the law in television appearances this week, criticized the decision to move the All-Star Game and tried to pin the blame on state Democrats for their vocal criticism of the voting restrictions.

“Today, Major League Baseball caved to fear, political opportunism, and liberal lies,” Mr. Kemp said in a statement, calling out Mr. Biden and Stacey Abrams, the titular head of the state’s Democrats. He continued: “I will not back down. Georgians will not be bullied. We will continue to stand up for secure, accessible, fair elections.”

Georgia Democrats had not called for a boycott of the game, but were building pressure on Major League Baseball and Georgia-based corporations to oppose the state’s voting law.

Ms. Abrams, who ran against Mr. Kemp for governor in 2018 and may challenge him again next year, said Friday that she was “disappointed” league officials had pulled the All-Star Game but that she was “proud of their stance on voting rights.”

For now, the fallout from baseball’s decision is more political and civic than financial. The impact on the Georgia economy of losing the All-Star Game is minimal, said Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College, because most of the tickets would be sold locally and many of the typical festivities would most likely be canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But, Professor Zimbalist said, Major League Baseball is taking a significant risk with a move that could alienate conservative fans. Professional basketball and football each faced organized boycotts from conservatives after the leagues embraced the Black Lives Matter movement last year.

“There will be a backlash,” Professor Zimbalist said. “I doubt very much that progressive people who didn’t like baseball will start liking baseball, but it’s quite possible that conservative people who do like baseball will move away from it.”

After Mr. Kemp signed the Georgia bill into law last week, Mr. Manfred began talking by phone to owners, team and league executives, and current and former players, according to a baseball official familiar with the discussions. Among those Mr. Manfred spoke with were Tony Clark, the head of the baseball players’ union, and the Players Alliance, a nonprofit formed after the killing of George Floyd that now includes more than 150 current and former Black professional baseball players.

Mr. Manfred listened to what everyone had to say and deliberated — relocating the All-Star game three months before it is scheduled to happen is a large undertaking — before making his decision on Friday, the official said. There was no official vote among owners.

While the National Basketball Association and the N.C.A.A., which governs college sports, have taken some progressive stands in the past — both groups moved major events out of North Carolina after Republicans there enacted a “bathroom ban” on transgender people — baseball has rarely made a political statement as significant as moving its midsummer classic out of Georgia.

The Associated Press in 2017 estimated that North Carolina would have lost more than $3.7 billion over 12 years had it not repealed its law. Once state lawmakers repealed it, the N.B.A. awarded Charlotte its 2019 All-Star Game.

Before baseball’s announcement, top Georgia Democrats had publicly opposed boycotts of their state over the Republican voting law, instead urging companies to fight against it and calling on Congress to pass a federal voting rights bill that could override parts of the Georgia law.

Senator Jon Ossoff, a Democrat elected in a January runoff election, said companies upset about the law should “stop any financial support to Georgia’s Republican Party.”

Senator Raphael Warnock, a fellow Democrat from the state who faces re-election in 2022, blamed the state’s Republicans. “It is not the people of Georgia or the workers of Georgia who crafted this law,” he said. “It is politicians seeking to retain power at the expense of Georgians’ voices. And today’s decision by M.L.B. is the unfortunate consequence of these politicians’ actions.”

At least one Georgia Democrat, State Representative Teri Anulewicz, whose Cobb County district includes the Braves’ stadium, expressed disappointment that the state would no longer host the game.

Georgia Republicans have scoffed at the prospect of boycotts. David Ralston, the State House speaker, told reporters that when Coca-Cola objected to the law after its passage, he drank a Pepsi, an act of heresy in Coke-dominated Atlanta.

Mr. Biden, in a television interview with ESPN before baseball’s opening day on Thursday, said he would “strongly support” moving the All-Star Game out of Atlanta. He called Georgia’s law and similarly restrictive voting bills that Republicans are advancing in almost every state they control “Jim Crow on steroids.”

In an interview this week with The Associated Press, Mr. Manfred, the baseball commissioner, had hinted that he was strongly considering moving the game but declined to make any firm commitments.

The Players Alliance, the group of Black professional baseball players, issued a statement in support of the league’s decision.

“We want to make our voice heard loud and clear in our opposition of the recent Georgia legislation that not only disproportionately disenfranchises the Black community, but also paves the way for other states to pass similarly harmful laws based largely on widespread falsehoods and disinformation,” the group wrote in a statement on Twitter.

“We will not be silenced,” the group said. “We won’t back down in the fight for racial equality. We will never stop breaking barriers to the ballot box.”

Alan Blinder and Joe Drape contributed reporting.

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